As years go, 1995 sucked rocks big time.
My great-grandfather died New Year’s Day. Two of my favorite cousins were killed in a huge car wreck in March. One of my wrestlers was killed in July and while I was on the way home from his visitation, Mama called and told me to go to the hospital where Granny Wham was recovering from a stroke. I broke every speed limit possible getting to Hillcrest thinking the whole time that Granny had died. She hadn’t . . . Papa Wham had. That was enough to send my world reeling, but the year wasn’t over yet.
On this day 15 years ago, my buddy lost her long brutal fight with cancer. She was just shy of turning 20. She was one of the very best friends I ever had and she’s the only woman, besides Mama, that Budge doesn’t mind me having a picture of on my desk. Budge knows what my buddy meant to me. Not many others do because I’ve never told that many people about her.
I met her when I was doing my student teaching in 1993. She was a senior which meant at that time, she was just over three years younger than me. I won’t say we had love at first sight, but we definitely had chemistry at first sight. The crutches made me curious.
She got around on crutches better than I could get around on two legs. Her left leg was gone. Once I got to know her, the story came out. She’d been a first rate cheerleader and volleyball player up until her freshman year of high school. One day after practice, she had a cramp in her left leg behind her knee. When she sat down on the bleachers to rub it out, she found a knot. The knot didn’t go away in several days. She went to the doctor, the doctor did some tests, and the next thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire and she’s being diagnosed with acute lymphoma.
They took her leg with a saw; her health and hair followed with chemotherapy. None of it ever broke her spirit though. She just threw up and rocked on. That’s how she rolled, as the saying goes today. When I met her, she’d finally gotten a full head of hair back, even though it was short, and she was in full remission.
We started calling and hanging out together. She had a Corvette she drove with hand controls and in those days when I had more courage than sense, she was one of the few drivers who could put me in the floor with terror. She was utterly and finally fearless. She said cancer couldn’t kill her so she wasn’t going to worry about anything else.
I graduated in May; she in June. We met up at the beach and hung out some. She loved the beach. I was over 21 so I kept her hotel room supplied with party lubrication. Yeah, it was illegal. Sue me. We had a great week before I went back to find a teaching job and she went back to get ready for college.
She never made it to college though. She called me two weeks later. I went to see her at the hospital. The cancer was back. In her lungs this time. They took out the offending lung lobe, gave her more chemo and again pronounced her in remission after six months. I called her daily and went to see her every chance I could. One day while we were laughing and cutting up driving around the hills around her home blasting out Skynyrd, Hatchet, and Duane and Gregg, I even asked her if she’d like to get hitched to a redneck like me. After all, it was obvious we were a perfect match.
I’ll never forget her reply. She reached up and cut the radio off, suddenly all business. She locked eyes with me and said, “I’d love to, but I’m going to die before long and you won’t be able to bear it if we were married. It’s going to be hard enough on you as it is.” I nodded. She turned up “Tuesday’s Gone” and we took off again.
Turns out, she was a prophetess. Less than three months later, I went back to the hospital to see her. It was in the right lung this time, but this time things were different. She wasn’t a minor anymore and she made her own decisions. To the abject horror of her mama, daddy, friends, and me, she announced she had no intention of leaving the world one piece at a time. She was done fighting. She was tired.
I kissed her on the cheek before I left her room that night. It was the last time I saw her alive. In the end, the big C sucked her dry. She weighed less than 50 pounds at the end. Her hospice nurse called me when it was over. My number had a heart around it in her contact book. I heard it was a closed casket funeral. She wanted everyone to remember her as she’d lived, not as she’d died. I went to see her mama and daddy but I didn’t make the funeral. No way I could. Hard to go to a funeral fifty miles away when you can’t get your eyes dry long enough to drive.
I only knew my buddy a little while in the grand scheme of things — barely two full years — but she taught me a hell of a lot in that short time about loving life and what it was to show real courage. On her tombstone is the picture of a soaring eagle and her favorite Bible verse:
“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”
I lost a lot of love in 1995 and love, especially the kind of love I lost, can’t be replaced.
That’s why I love all y’all so much.
Keep those feet clean and remember to live like you were dying!